Against embodied practice

Everyone from designers to educators to New Agey types seems to be talking these days about ’embodied practice.’ I believe there is a more literal meaning as well as a more figurative one. According to the literal meaning, one is actually to be involved in some activity where one is conscious of being an embodied human being. According to the figurative meaning, one must get ‘out of one’s head’ and throw oneself fully into doing something or other. Or, rather, concepts–misunderstood to be the kinds of things that are only mental–are thereby to be put ‘into the world.’ I disagree.

In an earlier set of posts about philosophy of mind (for an overview, see here), I have already suggested that our commonsensical, modern conception of mind is in error. From this, it would follow that our desire for ’embodied practice’ would be taking on board a misconception of our mental life. That is to say, if one’s mind is, somehow or other, separate from the physical world, then it would seem attractive to speak of ’embodied practice.’ But this is a mistake.

In this post, I examine only the literal meaning of ’embodied practice’ with a view to showing that it is in error. I will likely consider the figurative meaning in the next post.

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‘Stages’ of meditation

I want to describe the ‘stages’ or ‘states’ of meditation that I have gone through. To do so, I won’t be relying upon doctrine, only on lived experience and on metaphorical language (such as ‘states’ or ‘stages’). The latter is necessary since any non-discursive experience will have to enter into language in order to be intelligible. Drawing on metaphorical language, therefore, enables me to make sense of such an experience. In addition, it may assist as well as enhance my practice.


I will argue that I have experienced three ‘states’ or ‘stages’ of non-ordinary consciousness, and I have had intimations of a fourth. In what follows, I will be especially interested in the transitions from one state to another.

1. Preliminary Struggles. Posture is uncomfortable, breathing irregular, the perceptible world quite present to awareness, and thoughts angled toward memories, anticipations, and interests. One feels strain, effort, struggle, fight. Typically, some technique has as its aim that of moving one beyond these preliminary struggles.

Transition: One comes to–and quietly affirms–a weak metaphysical view according to which there is a real elsewhere that is other than and distinct from the ordinary reality of the perceptible world. This ‘elsewhere’ is at once an ‘other than…’ and a ‘more than…’ One senses that this ‘elsewhere’ is worth exploring to find out what it is and what it is like. What it is = what it is like.

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2 meditation techniques for beginners

The following two meditation techniques are intended to give new conversation partners and philosophical friends in my philosophy practice some ‘handles’ on how to get started meditating. When I write that it is necessary for you to meditate for at least 30 minutes before any philosophical conversation with me, you might wonder why this is necessary and how to do so.

One answer to the ‘why?’ question is that it prepares the mind to be put to the philosophical question. By virtue of meditation, the mind is trained to become alert, supple, and calm. In the following, I supply two answers to the ‘how?’ question.

Vipassana (Mindfulness Meditation)

sam harris, meditation instructions

Source: Sam Harris, Waking Up


The Water Method of Daoist Meditation


Source: Bruce Frantzis, Relaxing Into Your Being: Breathing, Chi, and Dissolving the Ego. The Water Method of Taoist Meditation: Volume 1.

Holding one’s tongue: Silence before speech

How infrequently do we hold our tongue. The phrase ‘holding one’s tongue’ we apply too narrowly, only to cases where we are upset and bound to say something that may hurt our interlocutor. At such a time, holding one’s tongue is appropriate and no doubt it saves us from embarrassment, foolishness, backtracking, and apologizing later on. And yet, not saying what may come to mind is an exercise that is best practiced not narrowly but across a whole range of cases. In lieu of privileging speech over silence, we had better reverse the relationship: holding silence to be the default, we only utter words when they are warranted.

‘Only when they are warranted?’ Yes, only after they have passed the test given by the demands within a specific context: answering cleanly a legitimate question; asserting a true belief in order to broaden the pool of true beliefs among us; saying in a few choice words how we are actually doing; helping the interlocutor make sense of a subject that had so far proven mysterious to him; issuing sincere words of love to one’s beloved. These are but some clear, vivid examples.

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Self-deception: A threat to philosophizing

Self-deception–what is it? It seems to be rather like lying to oneself, but how does one do that? You can lie to others, but it beggars the comprehension to fathom how one could pull off the trick of lying to oneself.

This may be why we say that self-deception is like lying to oneself. Deceiving oneself is not actually lying to oneself. But if it is true that self-deception is analogous to lying, then in what respect? In the respect, I think, that somebody is deliberately misled.

But can I deliberately mislead myself? The possibility is worth considering.

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